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18th Nov 2018

Libya weapons deals raise questions about Gaddafi aftermath

  • Europe does not have enough flexible defence capabilities, says Rasmussen (Photo: Nato)

Al Qaeda acquired weapons from Gaddafi's forces, Chinese arms dealers negotiated with the dictator's envoys, and France ignored an arms embargo in supplying the rebels, Nato and EU officials said Monday (5 September).

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) has acquired a stockpile of weapons from the Gaddafi forces, including ground-to-air missiles that can still pose a threat to flights over the territory, EU's counter-terrorism co-ordinator Gilles de Kerchove said during a press briefing in Brussels.

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"The Arab Spring provided the best counter-narrative to Al Qaeda, ... but it also provided a huge opportunity in re-energising it with looted weapons from Libya," he said.

Meanwhile, Nato, which is still conducting air strikes in order to "protect the civilian population" from Gaddafi forces, has vowed to stay on "as long as necessary", even if the dictator is toppled.

"For the end state of our operations, the capture of Gaddafi is not decisive. It is an element, but individuals including Gaddafi are not the target of our operations. A crucial role will be if the capabilities of the National Transitional Council (NTC) are able to ensure effective protection for civilians," Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a separate press conference on the same day.

While praising European leadership in kicking off the operations in March - with France and Britain having having pushed for intervention in Libya - Rasmussen also admitted that Paris had circumvented an arms embargo in order to supply weapons to the rebels.

"Nato has not been informed about such deliveries of weapons. We got the information afterwards when the issue was discussed in the media," he said.

"I understand the purpose of this [delivery] was to protect civilians against attacks from Gaddafi forces. But it was not part of Nato operations," the Danish former prime minister said

With the NTC indicating that it does not want Nato or UN troops on the ground after the dictator is ousted, raids will be conducted "as long as necessary" and requested by the NTC, he said.

Advisers and diplomats from EU countries will stay on and help with the institutional build-up.

"We strongly appreciate if the EU could take on a major role in assisting NTC and the Libyan people to build from scratch what had been demolished by the regime," Rasmussen said.

China

Meanwhile, China, which last week finally recognised the legitimacy of the NTC, admitted that its arms dealers held talks with Gaddafi envoys in July. The Chinese foreign ministry claimed, however, that this was done without Beijing's knowledge.

The ministry confirmed reports in Canada's Globe and Mail and the New York Times that documents found in Tripoli indicated that Chinese companies offered to sell rocket launchers, anti-tank missiles and other arms with a total of €142 million to Gaddafi's forces, despite a UN embargo.

"We have clarified with the relevant agencies that in July the Gaddafi government sent personnel to China without the knowledge of the Chinese government and they engaged in contact with a handful of people from the companies concerned," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said at a press briefing in Beijing.

"The Chinese companies did not sign arms trade contacts, nor did they export military items to Libya," she stressed.

The arms row comes just days after the NTC accused China of obstructing the release of Libya's frozen assets. Although China agreed in the UN Security Council last week to unfreeze €10 billion in Libyan assets abroad, it opposed handing them over to the NTC, according to Libyan rebel spokesman Shamsiddin Abdulmolah.

The UK is now also in the hot seat after secret documents released when rebels took over the Gaddafi stronghold in Tripoli showed a close link between the former regime and British intelligence in the rendition of terrorism suspects.

An inquiry will be launched to look “at the extent of the UK government’s involvement in, or awareness of, improper treatment of detainees - including rendition," Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement.

Libya slowly coming back to normality, says EU official

Shops are opening on the streets of Tripoli and more women and children are to be seen, EU envoy Agostino Miozzo said Tuesday upon his return from Libya. Weapons proliferation and an array of international aid efforts will be the biggest challenges ahead, however.

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